Democratic state Sen. Jennifer McClellan has formally launched her bid for Virginia governor, pitching herself as the candidate best suited to steer the commonwealth out of crises and onto a path forward.
“We are at a turning point of are we going to rebuild our economy and all of our safety nets — which are stretched, if not broken — in a way that finally addresses systemically inequity created over 400 years or not?” said McClellan, who represents the Richmond area. “I’m running for governor to make sure we are rebuilding in a way that addresses those inequities and doesn’t leave anyone behind and rebuild the trust in Virginians that their government is listening and cares and is ready and willing and able to solve their problems now and in the future.”
McClellan made her first outreach to voters through social media and email because of the social distancing constraints amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In her launch video released Thursday, she starts by saying that people are echoing the words of Martin Luther King Jr. by asking, “Where do we go from here?” She says the pandemic, racial injustice and changing world are not a time to restore what once was, but to move forward.
“When we’ve faced the challenges of our time and the painful legacy of our past together, we’ve transformed challenges into opportunities and pain into action,” she says in a video for her campaign launch. “I’ve led that kind of progress in the legislature.”
Considered a rising Democratic star in Virginia, McClellan, 47, served in the House of Delegates for 11 years until she became a senator in 2017. In 2010, she became the first delegate to be pregnant during a legislative session.
Soft-spoken and poised, McClellan, a corporate attorney for Verizon, has been a passionate advocate on women’s issues and education. Earlier this year she passed some of her most significant legislation. Her bill rolling back abortion restrictions got signed into law.
She also got a landmark bill signed that would make Virginia’s electric grid solely reliant on renewable energy by 2045.
She’s worked on addressing the overreliance on police to deal with discipline in schools, which disproportionately affects black children. She’s tackled discrimination in housing and criminal justice reform. She recently ushered through legislation aimed at protecting minority representation during the drawing of upcoming legislative maps. She was involved in repealing racist laws from the books.
“I have a very clear understanding of Virginia’s 400-year history and how we got to where we are now, and understanding that not all Virginians do,” McClellan said. “You cannot understand where you’re going if you don’t understand where you are and how you got there.”
McClellan grew up the child of a Virginia State University professor who was involved in civil rights activism. So she had an understanding of the power and role the government can play at an early age.
“Government can either be a positive force for change that solves people’s problems or it can be a force that only helps a few and leaves others behind,” she said.
Part of her mission of no Virginian being left behind includes those in rural Western Virginia. She’s made trips to the other side of the state, and spoke at a few events in Roanoke last year.
“Whether you’re in Grundy or Fairfax or downtown Richmond or Wythe, you want a good job, you want a good education for your kids, you want access to health care and you want a safe and healthy community,” she said. “I will show up and listen, whether you’re from Southwest Virginia, Southside, Northern, Central or Eastern, your voice will be heard and you will have a seat at the table.”
If she won the 2021 contest, McClellan would be Virginia’s first woman governor, the first African American female governor in the United States and only the second woman ever elected to statewide office in Virginia. The first was Mary Sue Terry, who served as attorney general in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Democrats are expected to have a crowded field in the race to succeed Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, who cannot serve consecutive terms.
Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince William, formally launched her campaign last month. Other potential Democratic contenders include Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Attorney General Mark Herring and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney.
Republican Sen. Amanda Chase, who has a Trump style of populism and often clashes with members of her own party, announced her candidacy in February. Republican businessman Pete Snyder has indicated an interest in running. Bill Carrico, a former state senator and trooper from Grayson County, also is mulling a run.